Common Factors Leading to the Necessity of Bioethics Education

At least three major factors have led to the need for bioethics teaching, with its focus on thoughtful deliberation about complex ethical issues.

The issue of professional autonomy in relation to physicians is the crucial distinguishing feature of bioethics education in the groups being discussed. Their predicament is shared with nurses, and nursing ethics has provided valuable insights into the dilemma that is created. Such groups must gain understanding of their peculiar situation: having moral authority without ultimate decision-making authority. In some states, groups such as physician assistants, physical therapists, and social workers have legal license to evaluate or practice independently. But this does not resolve the thorny questions of how to coordinate care for patients in a system largely centered on physician autonomy. The different levels of progress toward full professional status among the groups compound the issue.

A second factor distinguishing bioethics education for the groups under discussion is that many claim, as the rationale for their very existence, the mastery of a particular technology. Reliance on technology may drastically alter the complexion of the traditional health professional—patient relationship. First, technology may create a detrimental distance between health professionals and patients. Patients and health professionals alike may place unrealistic expectations on technologies to bring about "miracles," creating dissent and distrust when they fail to do so. And the high cost of many technologies may add undue burdens on patients and families.

Since the professional—patient relationship is at the heart of professional ethics, germane bioethics education is crucial so that health professionals can respond well to the larger human dilemmas created by technology. The types of technology the various professions employ will differ, but the generic challenges are similar for all. A list of "dos and don'ts" will not suffice. The concepts and methods of ethics are needed for thinking through and acting on technology-related challenges.

A third factor is the presence of inequities in healthcare. The tools of bioethics enable students to understand why inequities are morally unacceptable in the healthcare system. They also provide an opportunity to encourage reflection on how professionals can contribute to the advancement ofjust and fair policies.

Since bioethics education in the professions under discussion in this entry encourages critical thinking, considered action, and the exercise of ethically appropriate character traits, it will continue to be a powerful resource as new developments in healthcare and society give rise to ethical issues.

RUTH B. PURTILO (1 995) BIBLIOGRAPHY REVISED

SEE ALSO: Bioethics; Dentistry; Literature and Bioethics; Narrative; Nursing Ethics; Nursing, Profession of; Nursing, Theories and Philosophy of; Pastoral Care and Healthcare Chaplaincy; Sexism; Teams, Healthcare; Women as Health Professionals; and other Bioethics Education subentries

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